Bullied at School for Being Gay? The U.S. Justice Department 'Won't Stand for It,' High School Students Told

By Susan Jones | January 5, 2011 | 11:33am EST

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(CNSNews.com) – The U.S. Justice Department went into a public high school on Tuesday with a message for students: If you’re “different,” if you’re gay, and if you’re being bullied – don’t feel alone, don’t be ashamed, and don’t hesitate to call on the federal government for help if your school doesn’t stop the bullying.

“If you have been targeted for harassment or bullying because of your sexual orientation, because of your gender identity or expression, or simply because your classmates see you as different, I am here to tell you that the Civil Rights Division will not stand for it,” Tom Perez, the assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, told students at James Hubert Blake High School in Silver Spring, Md.

As part of the event – sponsored by the school’s administration and its gay-straight alliance – Perez played a videotape in which mostly gay and lesbian Civil Rights Division employees (and one who identified herself as intersex) shared their stories of being bullied at school. They also offered supportive messages to those who are being bullied now:

“You do have allies -- we are here for you,” one Civil Rights Division employee says in the video.

“If you can find some hope in the fact that you have a whole community of people out here – people who you’ve never met, and we’ve never met you, but we think of you and care about you and want you to be safe and want you to be happy,” another employee says.

“Being different is cool,” another employee says.

“When I was in grade school and high school, I was bullied. But now I prosecute bullies,” says yet another employee.

“Don’t be ashamed of who you are, just keep on being yourself.”

The video was produced by the Civil Rights Division staff for submission to the national “It Gets Better” Project, which was launched after a string of suicides of homosexual students who reportedly had been bullied. The project is intended to reassure LGBT youth that life gets better after high school.

Following the assistant attorney general’s remarks and the video presentation, students at Blake High School were invited to sign the “It Gets Better” Pledge, which reads as follows: “Everyone deserves to be respected for who they are. I pledge to spread this message to my friends, family and neighbors. I'll speak up against hate and intolerance whenever I see it, at school and at work. I'll provide hope for lesbian, gay, bi, trans and other bullied teens by letting them know that ‘It Gets Better.’"

According to a blog on the Justice Department’s Web site, Perez told students that in addition to the Civil Rights Division bringing cases against bullies, “we also need to address the attitudes and behavior that lead to bullying.”

Perez gave the students examples of how the Justice Department has intervened in cases of bullying – including the case of an openly homosexual teenager in New York who “failed to conform to gender stereotypes.”

A settlement reached in that case requires the school district to, among other things, retain an expert consultant to review policies related to harassment, and train faculty and staff annually on discrimination and harassment.

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